As Hurricane Irene plowed its way up the eastern seaboard last weekend, banks and financial institutions turned to their increasingly favorite means of communicating information to customers: social media.
FIs kept the tweets and status updates coming fast and furious during Irene to keep their customers abreast of branch closings, service updates and other issues.
That's no surprise, considering banks' increasing use of social media. According to a report issued by Corporate Insight, almost half of the firms it tracks have multiple Twitter accounts, and 38 percent have more than one Facebook page.
Before Irene hit, many banks already had specific guidelines or a set policy for using Twitter and other social media during emergency situations.
San Francisco-based Wells Fargo used its three Twitter channels, Facebook page and company blog to interact with its customers during Irene.
"Social media allows us to interact and serve customers in a more personal way," said Doug Caldwell, social media program manager for the bank. "In the event of an emergency, our social media channels offer us an additional resource to help get our customers the information they need."
Portland, Maine-based TD Bank was another FI that used Twitter heavily during the hurricane.
"Our customers knew to come to Twitter for information during Hurricane Irene," said Rebecca Acevedo, spokesperson for TD Bank. "We were tweeting constant updates."
Acevedo said the company encouraged its customers to go to Twitter for service updates during the storm. In fact, the bank's use of the microblogging site during Irene is part of its larger mission to make Twitter an interactive service channel rather than as a one-way conduit of information.
"We have a team of dedicated tweeters -- that's their sole responsibility," she said. "We try and respond quickly to questions, and will direct message with a customer if there's sensitive information involved. "
TD Bank has also began experimenting using Twitter to host educational seminars, where a bank expert addresses questions for two to three hours on a certain topic. For example, on Mondays the bank has one of its mortgage experts field questions via Twitter for three hours in the afternoon.
"We started it in March and it really has begun to grow," Acevedo said. "We keep getting more and more questions."
Wells Fargo's Caldwell said the bank also uses social media for wide range of purposes, from helping customers find the right student loan to providing information on the integration process during its merger with Wachovia.
"We’ve developed an approach that both allows direct participation in social communities but also the ability to take any personal or account-specific conversations offline, to protect the customer’s privacy and security and leverage other existing customer service channels," he said.